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Staying the Course: Employers Show Commitment to Wellness Despite Economic Hard Times

Source: Buck Consultants

Posted on 07 Feb 2013 by Neilson

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Employee WellnessWellness programs are no longer a "soft" issue for organizations around the globe as employers increasingly recognize the value of employees' health and overall well-being to their organizations' bottom line. According to the latest report from Buck Consultants, A Xerox Company  employers cite their commitment to promoting health and wellness as a business strategy and show continued desire to expand health promotion initiatives.

"Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies" found that employers, regardless of location, identified improving worker productivity and reducing presenteeism as one of their top wellness program objectives. [Xerox infographic: Upping the Ante on Wellness] "With productivity having a direct tie to bottom-line revenue, organizations now consider health promotion as a core business value that positively impacts their ability to compete," said Dave Ratcliffe, principal, Buck Consultants. "With signs of job market improvement emerging in the U.S., employers will be challenged to maintain productivity gains earned during the recession as employees have increased job mobility."

As health promotion takes its place as a top consideration among drivers of profitability and performance, an increasing number of organizations recognize their role in managing employee health - 87 percent in 2012 vs. 75 percent in 2010.

Overall, still only 36 percent of respondents currently measure specific outcomes of their health promotion programs, citing lack of resources (68 percent) and not knowing how to measure (34 percent) as the top reasons for not measuring. The likelihood of measurement increases with employer size, although even among the largest employers (20,000+ employees), only 47 percent report having measured specific outcomes.

Buck's fifth annual global wellness survey analyzed responses from more than 1,300 organizations in 45 countries representing more than 17 million employees.

Another key finding to emerge in this year's survey is employers' reaction to the recent economic downturn between employers who measure program results and those who do not. Thirty percent of employers who measured health promotion program outcomes indicated that they increased their emphasis on wellness programs during tough economic outlook vs. 21 percent of employers who do not measure outcomes.

"Employers who measure program outcomes do so with a greater focus on driving business results," said Ratcliffe. "A healthier workforce is a more productive workforce, which produces greater revenue that is sustainable over the long term. So these employers understand the value of continuing their wellness initiatives even during hard economic times."

Further emphasizing the impact on the bottom line, the survey found that 23 percent of U.S. employers indicated their wellness program helped reduce the cost of providing health care benefits to their employees. Of those:

* 62 percent reported health care cost trend rate reductions of 2 percentage points or more.

* 13 percent reported trend rate reductions of 6 percentage points or more

Other key findings of Buck's global wellness study include:

*Increase in globalization - Among participating multinational organizations, 49 percent have a global health promotion strategy, up from 34 percent in 2008.

*Program focus: move more, relax and eat better - Though different by specific geographic region, the majority of employers cite physical activity, stress, and workplace safety as the top three issues driving wellness program design.

*Incentives impact on program participation depends on type of activity

- The survey shows that incentives have a direct correlation to program participation levels, but initiatives that require long-term lifestyle changes (such as physical exercise and nutrition) are not as greatly influenced by incentives as are more immediate programs (such as health assessment and biometric screenings).

*Wellness initiatives continue to add value over time - While significant results from a wellness program can take years to realize, the survey shows how the impact of wellness programs differs by short-term and long-term payoff.

Additional issues covered by Buck's global survey include program design, incentives, organizational ownership of wellness programs and communication strategies.